Pirates have fascinated us all since the beginning of time.

It’s a profession that has been around for centuries, dating back to the invention of the ship and maritime travel. As long as the ocean’s waters have carried ships with valuable goods, there’s always been someone looking to take them as their own. As unfair as this may be, it’s an unfortunate reality that is a testament to how we humans approach life in general.

Seizing the opportunity to find and take an easy treasure from a ship close by is exactly what they specialize in and for some odd reason, it has kept us in awe. Many travelers even  embark on pirate-themed tours to learn more about them.

We have depicted them in literature, cinema, even in music and have gone so far as to paint them as heroes throughout pop culture. There's even museums about pirate history! For the vast majority of those depictions, we see them as rugged, lawless criminals without much care for anything other than getting rich. Although this assumption has plenty of truth to it, there’s a quite a lot about pirates, both in history and currently, that we don’t know about them.

Their history dates back over a thousand years so there’s bound to be some remarkably interesting things in their past and present. So here are 24 little-known facts about pirates!

Updated by Alex Renee on December 28, 2021: Pirates have fascinated the world for centuries, and are a popular subject in television shows, movies, and books. With that said, real-life pirates have roamed the seas for generations, so there's a lot of history and facts behind these ocean bandits. The popularity of pirates is here to stay, so we've updated the article to include more helpful (and interesting) websites, accurate information, and visuals for our readers.

24 Walking the Plank Wasn’t Really A Thing

Although it is true that pirates were known to be aggressive and downright vicious, it’s not really true that they would force their prisoners to walk the plank as a form of slow punishment leading to their eventual demise. If they were going to take that route, it’s likely pirates would do the deed quickly or simply strand their captives on a remote island leaving them there to more than likely not come out on the other side of things.

The plank, for the most part, is a myth.

It has simply been made famous through endless pop culture references.

23 Blackbeard Was Truly Menacing

Blackbeard was all too real. He isn’t just a mythical figure in pirate lore. He was a real historical figure who terrorized the seas of the Atlantic Ocean. The man, whose real name was Edward Teach, grew to folk status among his pirate contemporaries but for all the wrong reasons. He was easily considered the most vicious and brutal of them all, seizing ships at will with his army of men. He was also known as a legend, alongside his treasure.

To look menacing, he wove hemp into his beard and lit it on fire. This tactic would strike fear into the hearts of his victims.

22 Pirates Didn’t Just Steal Treasure

It’s a myth that has been perpetuated since pirates have become part of our entertainment world decades ago. After all, what’s a pirate without his treasure chest full of gold and silver coins?

Well, the truth is, pirates were everything without them because the majority of their loot was definitely not gold and silver-filled chests. They primarily raided other ships and took items that aren’t quite as exhilarating.

For practical and survival purposes, pirates mainly stole things like food, clothes, tools, and medicine.

According to the Queen Anne's Revenge Project, Blackbeard once demanded a chest of medicine in exchange of releasing ships (and prisoners) he seized on the port of Charlestown.

21 Pirates Actually Wore Eye Patches

It’s actually not just a myth perpetuated by pop culture that pirates wore eye patches for the sake of making them look tougher and more menacing to today’s audiences. Pirates of the past actually wore them, although the reasoning behind it is a bit hazy. It’s thought that there’s a bit of science to their reasoning behind the eye patch and not just a fashion statement meant to intimidate those they went after.

Wearing a patch over one eye forced the other eye to adjust accordingly, which helped them see at night.

This could have helped while raiding or being able to see better below deck where it could pretty dark.

20 Many Pirate Ships Were Small

We often see pirate ships as large, hulking and intimidating specimens barging their way through the waters in route to take the goods of the next ship in sight. The truth is these depictions aren’t entirely accurate and are meant to paint them in a certain light.

In reality, most pirate ships were small, built for speed and agility with enough space for weapons and their crew of men.

This was a well thought out method as they simply relied more on being nimble enough to chase larger, slower moving merchant ships without being chased down themselves after getting away with the loot.

19 There’s A Name For That Pirate Flag

We’ve all seen the infamous flag flown by pirates in movies and books our whole lives. The white skull and crossbones are synonymous with the world of pirates and with good reason. Those flags were real and were actually flown centuries ago by the thieves of the sea.

The flag was called a Jolly Roger and the origin of its name is still a hazy mystery. Similar to country flags, the Jolly Roger's flag meaning involves colors which represent the idea that no mercy would be taken. The name itself stems from a French saying that translates into the name we have today.

18 Blackbeard Didn’t Use The Jolly Roger

As popular as the flag was, the most famous and feared pirate of all time was one of the few who opted to not use the Jolly Roger. According to the Queen Anne's Revenge Project, the flag featured skeleton adorned with horns, carrying an hourglass and a spear pointing toward a red heart (with three drops).

This guy was definitely all about intimidation and fear, and the flag seen in the distance as he approached incited plenty of it!

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17 Pirates Had Their Set of Values

Although it may seem hard to grasp considering pirates were by definition, thieves of the ocean who went around robbing ships, they actually had their set of values which they abided by stringently. Although their lives were based on an unethical means of making a living, they still had their own rules that they implemented and stuck to. There were consequences for members of the crew who chose to not to follow the set code.

Rules included things like no fighting amongst one another while on board, divvying up chores evenly, food rationing and more.

Keeping the ship deck organized and clean was actually a priority for the crew.

16 Julius Caesar Was A Victim To Pirates

Incredibly, the most iconic Roman of all time, Julius Caesar was once a victim to pirates from Sicily. He was held captive for a ransom worth over a quarter of a million dollars today. Caesar, being the leader that he was gained their respect, but vowed to return to make them pay upon his release.

He made good on that word after he was free, returning to take the lives of all his captors, even taking back the ransom he was forced to pay.

15 Zheng Li And Ching Shih Were The Most Powerful Pirate Couple

Usually pirates had their runs as solo acts like Blackbeard and others that were as powerful. At one point in history, there was a couple so powerful in China that their run as pirates is nearly unmatched in terms of success and sheer dominance.

Zheng Li and his wife Ching Shih ran a group of raiding pirates that grew so large and controlled so much of the ocean’s water that according to factinate.com, their crews were able to go toe to toe with the Qing dynasty navy fleet!

14 The Drinking Stereotype Was True

Most times we have seen pirates on the big screen on film, we tend to see them with a drink in their hand acting pretty over the top and aggressive. Turns out the whole drinking stereotype is pretty spot on.

Pirates drank whatever was available, but their preferred drink was a concoction they invented call grog. Grog was basically sugar, lemon juice, water and rum all mixed together.

The drink still lives on today in just about most bars with most of them having a twist on the whole pirate theme.

13 They Took Prisoners For A Reason

Pirates were actually pretty strategic when it came to how they went about looting and raiding other ships.

They were smart enough to realize that it was best to incite fear by taking prisoners and keeping them captive before finally letting them loose after taking all their belongings.

If they made good on their threats to take lives, pirates worried that those who were captured would know they were in a fight for their life and would fight back till the end rather than surrender. It’s actually a pretty smart way of thinking.

12 Splitting The Loot Was Organized

Although pirates are always depicted as angry, aggressive, uncivilized men, their structure was very sound and this was especially true when it came to the loot they pillaged from their victim ships. After they successfully took what they could from other ships, they had a set way of splitting up the treasures.

Most crews had an organized methodology of splitting the value of the loot equally amongst the members of the crew with the captain taking a slightly higher share.

The wages actually turned out to be significant, making pirates some of the wealthier members of society, albeit criminals.

11 Women Made For Some Pretty Great Pirates Too

It’s very rare to see women depicted as pirates in today’s different forms of media. Just take a look at most any movie that stars them and you’ll find that the pirates on display are almost always men. And that’s probably fair considering the vast majority of pirates were men.

The reality though is that there were some pretty successful and famous female pirates including Anne Bonny, Grace O’Malley and Ching Shih. They were just as dangerous and well respected as their male counterparts.

10 Blackbeard's Massive Ship Was Discovered

For all his mythical status and the legendary tales that followed Blackbeard, the world finally got a glimpse into the real man and his way of life.

Over two decades ago in 1996, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s famous ship was discovered. It was considered one of the most remarkable oceanic discoveries of all time and one of the most important into the world of piracy.

Found off the coast of the eastern United States, near the Carolinas, the ship yielded cannons and hundreds of thousands of artifacts that gave experts a better understanding of pirate life.

9 Pirates are Still Very Real Today

Pirates aren’t just some ancient history of our past rooted in mythological characters. They were very real back then and although it might be hard to believe, they are still very real today as well. They simply don’t look the same as they used to. Modern-day pirates come from all over the world, scouring the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the coasts of Africa.

Somalia is considered the most notorious producers of today’s pirates, with a huge percentage of them coming from this country.

Although it is true pirates come from all over the world, Somali pirates are the most dangerous and sophisticated.

8 Hijackings Take Place Way More Than You Realize

Although they don’t get very much coverage by today’s media, hijackings by modern-day pirates take place way more often than any of us realize, making this a very big issue in our ocean waters today. The coverage isn’t all that loud simply because most victims tend to be ships from countries like Singapore or Indonesia, but the reality is this is a huge maritime issue. The International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre constantly monitors piracy robbery and armed incidents around the world.

7 Hijackings Take Place On Land Too

Although there isn’t much coverage of the seriousness of piracy in today’s waters, the coverage that the media does give it often highlights what you would expect – hijackings taking place out at sea.

To the dismay of most, nearly three-quarters of all pirate theft incidents today take place on land against ships that are anchored.

The remaining quarter takes place at sea as we imagine them. It’s simply easier for pirates to rush an anchored ship and steal what they need than to chase down a large hulking boat, hundreds of miles in the middle of the ocean.

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6 Ransoms Are Still Very Much Demanded

Kidnappings are not always a part of pirate hijackings, but they are an unfortunate reality that certainly takes place today. When kidnappings are involved today, ransoms that are demanded are significant.

With many of the ships attacked today coming from poorer countries, law enforcement is simply not equipped to combat pirates and ransoms are often paid for safe releases.

5 Pirates Have Upgraded Their Firepower

Although pirates look entirely different today than they did centuries ago, their ultimate goal has remained the same – track neighboring ships, force their way onto the ship and then take the cargo and goods at all costs after boarding. The way to do this is to make sure they have the firepower necessary to overtake other ships and this means pirates have upgraded their weaponry.

It’s not unusual to see these small boats carrying mortars and rocket launchers, along with highly specialized geographical location technology.